MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There have been more than 100 shootings in St. Paul this year.
The city council will look at police staffing levels Wednesday. Mayor Melvin Carter wants to reduce the number of officers at a time when the police chief says 911 calls have never been higher.
“These small things are examples of the chaos that’s going on because we don’t have this connection,” St. Paul resident Spruce Long said. “We need order in this world, no doubt. I believe that we need better officers if anything.”
Along the same block where gun violence ended an 18-year-old man’s life, conversations about why it keeps happening, how to fix it, and the desire to be heard.
“I think a lot of it has to do with homelessness, poverty,” said resident Patricia Jones. “I say we still need, you know, more cops, but with a better understanding, or just to have some empathy for the area that they’re working in.”
That debate is at the crux of St. Paul’s 2020 budget. Mayor Melvin Carter proposed cutting the police department’s total number officers by five, at a time when shootings are on the rise and 911 calls are getting late responses.
“You don’t have a time to take a breath. You’re just going from call to call and you’re not providing the appropriate amount of service for people that actually need it or deserve it,” said St. Paul Police Federation President Paul Kuntz.
Mayor Carter’s 2020 budget proposal does increase funding for the police department, and he says at 630 officers, it would already be the highest staffing total ever.
“I hear Chief [Todd] Axtell say every day we can’t arrest our way out of these challenges, that we have to continue to invest in the three-dimensional type of approaches that can help us not only respond to crime after it happens, but prevent crime and reduce it from happening in the first place,” Carter said.
To people like Patricia James, that means making sure officers are better trained in handling mental health cases, and investing in impoverished areas.
“I don’t have an argument against it, but I would say that it’s as important as hiring more cops,” Kuntz said.
In the midst of a possible reduction of officers, the police department is still working to hire six officers allocated for the 2019 budget.
Wednesday’s budget committee meeting starts at city hall at 10 a.m.